Nov 25 2013

Paul Williams



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Change, Moving Forward




A few years ago I was invited to a great golfing event in St. Paul Minnesota.  It was part of an annual gala presented by the Starkey Hearing Foundation.  They’re a marvelous organization that provides hearing tests and aids for people all over the world.  Their annual missions of mercy are major affairs with thousands of hearing impaired people showing up for the opportunity to receive help.  Watching a child as he hears his mothers voice for the first time is a powerful emotional experience.

Part of the visit included a hearing test administered in the Starkey lab by founder Bill Austin himself. I went as a lark, certain there was nothing wrong with my hearing.  I was surprised when given the news that I had significant loss at certain high and very low registers.  I was fitted for hearing aids.

I laughingly accepted them. Thanking the nice folk at Starkey, I took my hearing aids home, tossed them in a desk drawer and didn’t think about them again for a long long time.

Denial.  I have a home there.

Some time later my old writing partner, Roger Nichols sent me an embarrassingly boring new demo of one of our songs.  I listened to the uninspired minimal recording with a shockingly monotonous singer and wondered what had happened to my old pals chops.  This was bad.  I composed a short email detailing my disappointment and then searched for a pen to sign some Christmas cards.  I opened my desk drawer and saw the box of aids.

And a small light went on.  I loaded them up with fresh batteries and put them in before listening to Rogers demo again.

It was brilliant.  Strings and guitar I hadn’t heard at all before.  A marvelous bass line and a singer that sang directly to my heart.  I was stunned. I fired off a quick apology to Mr. Nichols.  ”Ignore previous message.  Demo terrific! Short deaf writing partner an ass!”

It’s remarkable how somebody who claims to be as evolved as yours truly can be such a moron.  Shocking, how I can completely disregard vital information presented by an expert on any subject.  Any subject.  What is it that causes us to turn away from a truth without taking even a moment to examine it for validity?  Let alone accepting it.

Acceptance.  Ah, there’s the word.   The creation of a solution requires accepting that there is in fact a problem.   It’s the headwaters of change.

My hearing loss is not an accident.  Nor is it simply age related.  Many of us who’ve made music for a living share this common workplace related injury.  Years spent in the recording studio listening to extremely loud playback on industrial sized speakers eventually takes a toll.  It’s a powerful ego boost listening to a full orchestra pouring out one of your tunes in stereo

Weeks later, finished product in hand I’d race home and listen again and again.  My routine may sound laughable to you.  Many a night you’d find me laying on the floor at home, Woofers and Tweeters inches away from my ears. It’s insane. Powerful Marantz speakers pointed at my brain with the volume cranked up to eleven.  It must have added to the damage.  With the right chemicals dancing along in the bloodstream it was pretty interesting though.

So, suitcase sized stereo earmuffs are a bad idea.  That’s obvious.  But what’s the current lesson here?

I think my problem is a listening problem as much as a hearing problem.  An unwillingness to listen to all the signs. For the last few years I’ve had occasional intonation problems on stage. Music is my art.  Why wouldn’t I have immediately sought professional help

Avoiding certain truths must be either fear based or egocentric.  To overpower the unconscious missteps we need to choreograph new behavior into our daily routine.  Listening skills need to slide onto and remain on our radar.  Are you listening? Are there signs that you might be unconsciously avoiding unwelcome truths?  Perhaps forgotten or missed dr. appointments and check ups.  Is there a lump, a sore spot, an ache you need to address?  Are you listening now? Good.

There’s a bumper sticker saying that “Recovery is a process, not an event.”

I think it applies to all life.  Living is a life long’ awakening.  Not a single event but a series of steps and missteps that are chocker block full of information.  When we begin to accept that life’s rhythms are always changing we can adjust accordingly, listen more carefully and begin to appreciate the sweet sounds of a perfect now. We can listen to the band and even sing along in this sometimes comic opera of growing up in gratitude and trust.




Paul Williams

Paul Williams is a singer, songwriter, actor, recovery advocate and has been a fixture on the American cultural scene since the seventies. His book Gratitude and Trust; Recovery is Not Just For Addicts will be released in 2014.

  • Jim Rezac

    Ok, this was not only relatable on several levels ( I tend to play stage right, with my left ear to the drummer..and cymbals…and wonder why my left ear hearing is off)…but it’s funny! Thanks Paul. “Active Listening” , or the lack thereof, has plagued me most of my life. Your take on it has given me a fun way to look at correcting it… Again!

    • Paul Williams

      Part of the gig I guess. Although that home stereo technique I developed probably did the most damage.
      Did you do that too? I wonder if we’d have been more careful if we’d known the consequences of listening at eleven levels. In my case I doubt it.
      I remember laying on the floor listening to the Beatles Revolver album and the mixes that took a sound right thru your head from one side to another and then back again. It made me want to run to the piano and start writing .. Thanks for the comment. Glad you’re here.

      • Jim Rezac

        Revolver! Did the same thing, almost, with Rubber Soul. McCartney credited with “fuzz bass” on ‘The Word”!!!! THATS what did it for me… Ha!! Good stuff

        • Paul Williams

          Also a great album I listened to with suitcase sized headphones. The ultimate being Sgt. Pepper though. Now that I think about it. The ending run up in ‘A Day in the Life” actually made my stomach jump like a roller coaster ride. Loved every note.

          • Jim Rezac

            Wasn’t that last note (piano bass note ) the longest ending note in recording history…or is that one of those urban legend type facts? ( I love those little tidbits!). Night, Paul.

          • Paul Williams

            And i loved the note that ran up to . “Woke up ..Got outta bed .. Dragged a comb across my
            head.” Ok, now I”ve gotta find the album and try it ONE MORE TIME! :)

  • JP

    Dear Paul… I needed to “Hear” that today. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your blog. I read it everyday and get a lot from it. I know how busy you are and to take the time to do such service is inspiring. Have a great Thanksgiving

    • Paul Williams

      Thanks JP. It’s reassuring to me and to Tracey to get positive feedback. Glad you’re a part of the G & T gang. Blessings and have a great holiday.

  • Steppie Royes

    Use your resources, Paul. Beethoven was deaf but still wrote music. He
    didn’t have the technology of hearing aids; you do. Don’t over think the fact
    that you’re going deaf. Don’t let it allow you to stop what you love doing.
    Always use your resources to your advantage.

    • Paul Williams

      Thanks Steppie. I promise to never over think anything again. (I wonder what she meant about Beethoven? Was she comparing me to him? No, she was belittling my music. Was she …) Yes, I’m happy to have the aids and they’ve made singing fun again. I don’t worry so much about intonation. I also hope the blog will increase awareness of the Starkey foundation. They’re fabulous people and do so much good. Thanks for the comment. Hear the Tee visit to N.O. was terrific. Glad you had fun.

  • Michael Gullickson

    The headwaters of change. What a great line. I feel a poem coming on. I’ve always had great hearing. I think it was the Big Amigo compensating me for poor eyesight. At age 6 I was told I was nearly legally blind. Now I’m only night blind. Glasses and cataract surgery have improved my vision. I now function on the computer without my glasses… Listening is a different art form. Wisps of conversation float around me.Am I evesdropping? Definitely.It is all I can do not to join a conversation I find interesting. In the Senior community I’m a part of, most people welcome interaction. I think many of them are alone and need a human voice to recognize they exist. Wait, don’t we all need that? Isn’t your music often about our shared experiences, our shared needs? Thanks Paul for another meaningful entry, another door into each other.
    Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, There’s room at the table for all..

    • Paul Williams

      Change is the objective, the essence of what Tracey and I are writing about. The prize of recovery. It is our message, our conviction and even our words. If you like my blog I can’t wait to hear your thoughts about the book we are writing. Thanks, Paul

  • Nanook

    “I think my problem is a listening problem as much as a hearing problem. An unwillingness to listen to all the signs….” Message received and heard – Loud and CLEAR. Thanks, Paul!

    • Paul Williams

      Oh, good! Glad it rang true for you. This life is a learn by doing deal and I feel more like a beginner sometimes now in my eighth decade than I did in my second, third or fourth. I’m a better student and wonder why I didn’t pay attention sooner. It takes what it takes they say ..

  • Elissa Bell-Bassett

    You nailed it,as usual.Yep-I have big Blue/Lavender eyes and face.always get compared to Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Collins(Well,they did before I went gray,lol).Not to shappy to be compared to.NEVER wanted even contacts as “they make the damn writing smaller on all these pamplets and even STREET SIGNS”,Oy!”.In truth,I didn’t want to have somebody ask if I was wearing contacts and think I’d colored them.Then,I wouldn’t be compaired to aging or deceaced actresses anymore!Brother,that ego is the last to go,or be lowered to average size,recovery or not!Now,I’ve progressed to glasses,and wow-There’s a whole clear world out there!IAlso,,having gone to many concerts and having the old huge stereo headphones at full blast,during those glorious late 60′s to 80′s,now have maybe stopped thinking” they”have turned the volume so darn low,hehe.Oh,denial-I sometimes bathe in the River Denial,until somebody else about my age has the same funny thing happen.Thanks Paul-Getting the ears checked,just in case,it isn’t somebody turning everything down:)Who knows-Maybe more will permeate the area between those ears sooner!xoxoxoYou and Tracey are keeping it real!!Thank You!

    • Paul Williams

      And we’re loving the company we’re keeping. Thanks for being a part of!

  • Margaret Garone

    Great reminder!

    When everybody was shouting to my father one day (and the sound echoed and bounced off the vaulted ceiling,) I asked him what happened to his hearing aid. He said the batteries went dead too fast. I said, Oh, do you turn them off at night? He said, “The truth is, I don’t want to hear.”

    Fair enough. Yet I always felt guilty for not wanting to shout. Learning to respect somebody’s wishes is yet another part of the listening/hearing problem.

    • Paul Williams

      I wear mine on stage but rarely around the house. Mariana’s had to hear a thousand “Say again”s and “What?”‘s .. She then repeats her question which many times I heard perfectly the first time. In other words I’ve fallen into a ‘What’ habit. Communication. Not always easy.

  • Robin Madsen

    Yes, the 60′s and 70′s took a toll on my hearing as well. But who knew back then? It was just great music, which sounded even better when cranked to eleven. I said I’m not ready for aids just yet, but was told I might reconsider when I get tired of my friends kicking me for saying “What?” all the time – so far I’m still just getting annoyed looks.
    But there’s something else to consider here. I too have said “What?” and then immediately answered the question. It’s a listening problem as well as a hearing problem, and you’re right, I may be missing more than I know.
    Thank you for an insightful, thought provoking blog. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Paul!

    • Paul Williams

      What ? that’s it .. answering the question on the heels of what. Thanks for a concise way of describing life with Paulie much of the time. Have a great holiday Robin. Glad you’re here. Hear?

      • Robin Madsen


  • Carl Baytala

    A Timely and welcomed post.Thanks Paul.Have a great day.

    • Paul Williams

      Thanks Carl. I appreciate your checking in at G & T …

  • Mayor of Storyville

    “On the average, it takes 7 years for a person to do something about their hearing problem.” I wrote advertising for a hearing aid company and this is one of their facts. Another fact is, even though I knew this it took me 7 years to get one myself. It is still in a drawer. Putting it on will be a Christmas gift to my wife and children. Humbled again. Hearing Happy Holidays, Mayor of Storyville

    • Paul Williams

      All of which makes me feel pretty good! Here’s to Hearing all those sweet greetings coming your way.